From the Advocacy Committee
September 5, 2023
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, the Court no longer recognizes a federal constitutional right to abortion. The Court transferred the regulation of abortion access to the states.
The right of access to safe reproductive care in Pennsylvania now depends on the actions of the commonwealth’s government. Therefore, it is critical to understand not only the current state of abortion access in Pennsylvania, but also how elections will determine whether abortion access remains in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania law still provides for access to abortion care for women at the Roe v. Wade standard of 24 weeks, but the Pennsylvanian Constitution does not have explicit reproductive protections. This means that legislators could enact state laws restricting abortion or contraception access. If these laws are signed by the governor, they would take effect.
Unlike the federal judiciary, we elect our local, county and statewide judges in Pennsylvania -- one of only seven states to do so. And sadly, in the off-year judicial elections, turnout is typically about 20% of registered voters.
This November 7, Pennsylvanian voters will choose a new state Supreme Court justice, two Superior Court judges, and one Commonwealth Court judge – all appellate judges with the power to review any new reproductive care legislation.
The death of Chief Justice Max Baer last fall left the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with a 4-2 Democratic majority. Reproductive rights advocates say that maintaining a significant Democratic majority could be crucial for protecting reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.
The Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Montgomery County Judge Carolyn Carluccio, has been accused by Planned Parenthood Votes of “erasing” her anti-abortion views from her resume. In her primary campaign, Carluccio called herself a defender of “all life under the law.” She removed that language after winning the primary, however.
Her opponent, Democratic candidate Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffery has been vocal about his support for abortion rights and reproductive care.
Concern over the candidates’ views on abortion is not theoretical. Currently, the court is considering a case on whether to overturn a law barring Medicaid from covering abortions in Pennsylvania. The court’s Democratic majority has been instrumental in turning back recent Republican efforts to restrict voting laws and, perhaps most importantly, to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump.
According to AP VoteCast, a recent survey of the electorate, 64% of Pennsylvania voters in the 2022 midterm elections said abortion should be legal in most or all cases. We certainly saw that keeping abortion legal was an influential issue last year in Pennsylvania that contributed to the victories of Governor Josh Shapiro and U.S. Senator John Fetterman.
We cannot sit this election out. Let’s get out the vote on November 7 and keep abortion and all reproductive healthcare legal, safe, and accessible in Pennsylvania